Author: Tom Reiss
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, 2005.
Date: October 2006.
Contribution: Part biography, part history, part mystery, “The Orientalist” traces the life of Les Nussimbaum, a Jew, born in Azerbaijan in 1905. Lev and his father, a Baku oil baron, flee to the West when the Bolsheviks take over Azerbaijan after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Nussimbaums finally settle in Weimar Germany where Lev becomes a best selling author and assumes the identity of a Muslim prince, changing his name to Essad Bey. With the advent of the Nazis Lev moves to Austria and publishes “Ali and Nino”, a love story, under the name of Kurban Said. However it is also claimed that an Austrian – Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels – wrote the book. This mystery was the starting point for the author’s interest in Lev.
Reiss, an American, whose forebears fled from Nazi Germany, is passionate about his subject and the writing is the product of five years research. The result is an unprecedented view of the twentieth century, several issues such as race , religious self-definition, fanaticism and terrorism resonating with those of today. The book is packed with many weird and wonderful characters which makes it a good read as well as a thought provoking experience.